Most proponents of so-called complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) are ordinary, reasonable people, even when promoting beliefs that may be dubious or even thoroughly incredible. However, occasionally I run across one of those individuals with not only a bizarre understanding of health and disease but a bizarre sense of their own relationship with veterinary medicine. Individuals like Dr. Gloria Dodd and Eric Weisman (1,2,3) appear to see themselves as misunderstood geniuses, martyrs whose insights and efforts to improve the world are resented by the less enlightened and attacked by nebulous conspiracies dedicated to preserving their power and income by suppressing simple, cheap cures for disease.
Many of the warning signs of quackery are related to these narcissistic and self-serving narratives (including the Galileo Complex, the David and Goliath Myth, and the Dan Brown Gambit). While an exaggerated sense of self-importance and a persecution complex are not guarantees that the ideas a person is promoting are nonsense, they certainly should raise a red flag and lead one to pay even closer attention to the amount and quality of evidence behind these ideas. All too often, it appears that ego alone is all the evidence these folks need.
That seems to be the case for Dr. Al Plechner. Dr. Plechner is a California veterinarian who appears to have discovered the cause and the cure for most serious medical conditions not already curable by scientific medicine. He calls his one true cause of disease Atypical Cortisol Imbalance (ACIS), though he usually refers to it as Plechner Syndrome.
What’s The Problem?
Dr. Plechner begins his somewhat vague argument by referring to the “Medical Ice Age.”
The MEDICAL ICE AGE relates to the gradual breakdown of ourselves, our animals, and our earth. As this gradual breakdown is occurring, a concentration of predisposing factors of poor health are being created. Not only are we seeing entire families of people developing allergies, auto-immunity, and cancer, but we are also seeing even a faster progression of diseases in our animals due to indiscriminant breeding, and breeding without function. The lack of concern for our earth has further allowed for environmental breakdown, contamination of our soils and waters, and the development of an unstable atmosphere…
With this present day destruction, a potentially dangerous cortisol deficiency is being created in our bodies which allows the immune system not to protect people and animals, but instead allows the loss of recognition of the body’s own tissue by these cells, resulting in allergies, auto-immunity, and cancer. This is called, PLECHNER’S SYNDROME. The identification and control of this syndrome may slow down the MEDICAL ICE AGE which threatens our existence.
He goes on to describe ACIS or “Plechner’s Syndrome” and how he believes it is related to disease:
ATYPICAL CORTISOL IMBALANCE SYNDROME (ACIS) (PLECHNER’S SYNDROME) DESCRIBES A DEFICIENCY IN THE PRODUCTION OF CORTISOL FROM THE MIDDLE LAYER ADRENAL CORTEX AND ITS INABILITY TO PROVIDE ACTIVE (WORKING) CORTISOL WHICH IS THE UNDERLYING CAUSE OFATYPICAL CORTISOL IMBALANCE SYNDROME (ACIS) (PLECHNER’S SYNDROME) AND THE MEDICAL ICE AGE. This shortage of active (working) cortisol leads to a domino effect through the deregulation of thyroid hormones leading to the production of excess ESTROGEN and the deregulation of the immune system and all of the diseases and maladies this resulting faulty immune system creates.
…The fact that these hormones (ALDOSTERONE and ADRENAL ESTROGEN) are present relates to whether the CORTISOL and THYROID HORMONES are working, and not the ESTROGEN and ALDOSTERONE, otherwise the electrolytes and the antibodies would not be working. The comparative levels refer to the CORTISOL and IMMUNOGLUBULINS and this is why it is so important to do comparative levels, including those secretions which are regulated by active (working) hormone.
This supposed endocrine disorder is identified as the underlying cause for many seemingly unrelated diseases, including:
Food Allergies: “You must realize that food sensitivities may only occur secondarily to Plechner’s Syndrome, which is a hormonal antibody defect. If this syndrome is damaged and uncontrolled, eventually the patient will develop food sensitivities to all food.”
Skin Allergies and Infections: “Most dog skin problems seem to come from a hormone antibody imbalance referred to as Plechner’s Syndrome.”
Vomiting in Cats: Of course, food allergies can cause vomiting, and this has already been attributed to Plechner Syndrome. But apart from this problem, “The 2nd most common reason why cats vomit is due to a hormonal antibody imbalance.”
Cancer: “What then is the cause of this uncontrolled tissue growth called cancer? It occurs because of a endocrine-immune imbalance that leads to a deregulated immune system. This endocrine-immune imbalance begins with a defective or deficient cortisol which is produced in the middle layer adrenal cortex.”
Feline Viral Leukemia: “…feline-leukemia victims usually suffer from a hormone imbalance. In treating more than 2,000 cases, Plechner has discovered that with an individualized hormone-replacement plan, dietary changes and regulation, the virus can be controlled, if detected early enough. There are cases in which leukemia-positive cats have become negative after several weeks of treatment, although veterinary textbooks say this is impossible.”
Other Retroviral Infections: “The cats and humans that suffer from these viruses [retroviruses], like HIV, FIV, FIP and FELV, all have a hormonal-antibody deficiency caused by the Plechner Syndrome.”
Bladder Infections: “Chronic bladder infections in cats are caused by a hormonal antibody imbalance which as yet has not been realized.”
Dental Disease: “The plaque, on the actual tooth may not be causing a problem unless the plaque is great enough to cause the gum associated with that tooth, to cause a gingival recession leading, to an exposed tooth root problem, causing the problem, but rather a hormonal antibody imbalance that is leading to a deficiency of the protective antibody for the gums?”
Inflammatory Bowel Disease: “The cause of the IgA imbalance, IBD and other associated diseases, come from a middle layer imbalance in natural cortisol, produced by the middle layer, adrenal cortex.”
High Cholesterol: “I have found in people and animals, that when there is a cortisone imbalance, the pituitary stimulation causes an increase of total estrogen in male and female patients from the inner layer of the adrenal cortex. This in turn binds the use of thyroid hormone, and reduces the metabolism of the liver where cholesterol utilization and breakdown occurs. Automatically you can see why cholesterol levels may remain high, even after you have done everything that had been recommended.”
Epilepsy: “However, my research studies have allowed me to discover a syndrome involving elevated adrenal estrogen, causing an inflammation of all the endothelial cells that line the arteries of the body. When this elevated level of adrenal estrogen, including ovarian estrogen, causes inflammation of the cerebral arteries, a migraine headache or epileptic seizure can occur…In animals that have had their ovaries removed and in males with no ovaries, this same elevated adrenal estrogen can occur, causing the majority of epileptic seizures in animals and other catastrophic diseases.”
Cherry Eye: “What is cherry eye? This is a condition seen in dogs that relates to the tissue near the inner area of the eye. At the inner portion of the white of the eye, is a membrane that is a remnant of amphibians. In amphibians, this is a membrane that covers the actual eye, and allows the amphibians to see under water. In dogs, there is only a small remnant. But in this remnant, there is a small lymph node, often referred to as the Hardarian gland. When Plechner’s Syndrome is present, it creates an antibody deficiency. When this occurs this small gland increases in size to make up for the antibody imbalance and can reach a size when it can actually abrade the cornea and definitely needs to be removed. At this time, you should insist that your healthcare specialist, remove the other lymph node even if it not enlarged. It will enlarge later and have to be removed, unless you correct Plechner’s Syndrome.”
Plechner Syndrome is also credited with a causal role in female infertility and poor breeding performance, Sudden Acquire Retinal Degeneration Syndrome (SARDS), “Rage Syndrome,” and infestations with fleas and ear mites.
And how is this syndrome detected when it can cause so many seemingly unrelated disorders? Why a simple blood test, of course. It has to be sent to the one lab he trusts, one which will measure the particular kinds of hormone levels he believes are important (which most labs don’t measure since most endocrinologists don’t agree with his assessment), but otherwise it is easy to identify this one underlying cause of many, if not all, diseases.
While Dr. Plechner identifies his eponymous syndrome as the root of most disease, he only speculates about what causes the syndrome itself: “It may be caused by genetics, exposure to toxins, stress, aging, lack of sleep, or in combinations thereof.”
And he does identify a few other causes of ill health, though most he mentions do ultimately cause disease by generating Plechner Syndrome. He feels there are “toxins” in the environment and in pet foods, though he only identifies a few specific substances (plastics, parabens, fluoride, and of course genetically modified food crops). He also considers inbreeding to be one possible cause of Plechner Syndrome, and he has a lot of concerns about radiation. And he recommends dosing the amount of vaccine given by size, in a purely subjective way despite the complete irrationality of this approach, presumably because “too much” vaccine would be harmful.
What’s The Solution?
What does Dr. Plechner recommend as treatment for Plechner Syndrome? The mainstay of his treatment is a lifelong supplementation of cortisol and thyroid hormone for any species, both as a treatment and a preventative measure. He may use the laboratory tests he recommends to guide the specific dosing he uses, but it seems clear that he isn’t really diagnosing Plechner Syndrome since he already knows it is always present; “Every patient I have been involved with, whether dogs, cats, horses or people, all have an identifiable, hormonal antibody imbalance.”
He also recommends calcium Montmorillonite clay as a panacea for numerous conditions, including: kidney disease, nutritional disorders, “detoxification” and chelation of supposed toxins, osteoporosis, urinary tract infections, radiation poisoning, skin disease, burns and wounds, gastrointestinal upset, and more.
So Why Isn’t Everybody On Board?
The first question one should always ask about any hypothesis or new approach to health and diseases is “What’s the evidence for this?” Here’s what Dr. Plechner says:
1. I have created a successful treatment program that has helped approximately 150,000 dogs, cats, horses and people. These were patients, not only at my hospital, but in healthcare facilities throughout the world.
2. My clinical studies also show that there are high levels of total estrogen in all female dogs that are diagnosed with cancer… although these dogs no longer have their ovaries.
3. Every cancer patient I have ever been involved with, whether it be animal or human, has an elevated level of total estrogen that is not indicated with standard estrogen testing.
4. Through my clinical studies over the past 50 years, I have been able to identify a genetic and acquired endocrine immune imbalance, which can be easily corrected so that the retrovirus will not end the life of a patient.
5. With my clinical studies I have found that 80 % of the causal control will not need antiepileptic drugs to control their seizures however 20 % even on hormone regulation of the seizures may need to stay on antiepileptic drugs.
Wow, these are pretty impressive research results! Let me just have a look at the published reports so I can get all the details….
Hmm, I’m not finding any published research studies. I wonder why that is….
As a clinician, my patients are my primary concern. For that reason I have not conducted controlled studies where one group of patients receives treatment and another group, for comparison, receives a placebo. I cannot in good conscience deny treatment to suffering animals who I know will benefit from that treatment.
Please realize that my clinical studies have not been accepted by my peers.
Oh, there aren’t any controlled studies, published or unpublished. By “clinical studies” he means “in my personal experience.” The theoretical foundation of Plechner’s Syndrome and the evaluation of clinical efficacy of its treatment is empirical. In other words, he made it all up!
An examination of the articles and information on Dr. Plechner’s web site reveals that he invented the entire theory and decided he was right based entirely on clinical experience and anecdotes. He has neither the inclination nor the training to conduct controlled scientific research, so his claims are purely faith based. He quotes numbers and percentages, but there is no evidence that these are based on anything more than his own imagination.
It is often pointed out, quite rightly, that science doesn’t know everything, and our understanding of phenomena as complex as living organisms is likely to always be incomplete. However, the incompleteness of knowledge is not the same thing as total ignorance, nor does it mean that absolutely anything can be true. We don’t entirely understand how gravity works at the subatomic level, but that doesn’t mean we can simply imagine ourselves into a real ability to fly if we leap off a tall building.
Endocrinology, the study of glands and hormones, is an enormous field with huge amounts of highly detailed knowledge based on centuries of scientific study. While we don’t know everything, Dr. Plechner’s theory is fundamentally inconsistent with what we do know and so is highly unlikely to be true. Perhaps through pure imagination, study, and uncontrolled personal experience, one man has discovered a fundamental principle of endocrinology that will overturn decades, even centuries of established science. Or, perhaps he is mistaken. Which seems the more likely?
Beyond the fundamental implausibility of his theory and the complete absence of any pre-clinical or clinical trial research to support it, Dr. Plechner’s claims raise many of the red flags of quackery.
- The Galileo Complex: As already pointed out, his characterization of himself as a misunderstood visionary ahead of his time qualifies as a manifestation of the Galileo Complex.
- The David and Goliath Myth, and the Dan Brown Gambit: Dr. Plechner appears to believe that the medical profession is deliberately resisting his ideas out of selfish and venal motives:
How would you feel if you found out that they’ve discovered a cure for cancer but they’re not going to let anyone know about it? I’m sure you’re all responding to this question by attacking it. “Why would they do that?” “That makes no sense!” “What about the money they could make?”
I could answer all of your objections by stating a single fact. The profits that a cancer cure would accrue wouldn’t even come close to the profits made by all of the cancer treatment drugs and the associated services involved in treating cancer. Sad to say, the treatment of cancer has proven itself to be, a tremendously successful revenue builder. Why wouldn’t you keep a possible cure under wraps?
But of course, this is purely a hypothetical question. We couldn’t possibly believe that our medical institutions could be callously driven by the pursuit of profit. Why, they’re as ethical as our great financial institutions are and look at how successful they’ve been.
The frightening fact is that a cancer cure could prove to be financially disastrous to the pharmaceutical and all of the other dependent medical industries.
The One True Cause of Disease: He believes his insight explains many apparently unrelated conditions with a single, simple answer that all other doctors and scientists have somehow overlooked.
Remember, many healthcare professionals will treat the EFFECTS of the illness or disease, but not the ROOT CAUSE cause of it.
It is no longer enough to say that my Veterinarian or Health Care Professional did the best that they could. There is another way. You as a pet owner or as a patient need to DECIDE FOR YOURSELF if you or your pet want to be just another statistic.
PLECHNER’S SYNDROME ADDRESSES AND TREATS THE ROOT CAUSES OF CATASTROPHIC ILLNESSES AND NOT JUST THE MEDICAL EFFECTS. It has the potential to help millions of animal or human patients to realize their dreams of better health and greater longevity.
Other Red Flags from Dr. Walt’s List:
Is the product or practice promoted as a “Major Breakthrough,” “Revolutionary,” “Magic,” or “Miraculous”?
Is only anecdotal or testimonial evidence used to support claims of effectiveness?
Is the treatment said to be effective for a wide variety of unrelated physiological problems?
Is the product a quick and easy fix for a complicated and frustrating condition?
Is the treatment said to be effective for a wide variety of unrelated physiological problems?
Is the product a quick and easy fix for a complicated and frustrating condition?
Who Is This Guy?
While I don’t believe personal details about someone are key to evaluating the legitimacy of their scientific claims, they can be informative, particularly after the claims have clearly failed the tests of plausibility and scientific evidence and contain so many red flags of nonsense. Dr. Plechner provides a brief biography on his web site. In it, he discusses a number of dramatic experiences with the medical profession which might be expected to generate some suspicion of mainstream medicine:
1. One afternoon, when I was just seven years old, I was playing in the alley behind our house when a car came speeding up the alley and then ran over my four-year-old sister. The next door neighbors were both physicians and were home at the time. They rushed out and wrapped up my little sister in a blanket and headed straight to the nearest hospital. The interns and residents at the hospital were in a meeting at the time and were, “too busy” to attend to her massive head trauma. By the time we reached the next hospital, she had died .What a sad example for a seven-year-old child to suddenly realize that taking the, “Hippocratic Oath” must mean that you are a, HIPPOCRITE. Can you imagine what must have gone through my child’s mind seeing a hospital who did not care if a little girl died or not?
2. One afternoon, when I was eleven-years-old, my Dad had gone to the hospital for an injection of a bronchiole dialator for his asthma called, “Aminophyline”. He suffered from a horrible allergic reaction and died within a few minutes.
3. After five years of hard work I then applied to medical school. I had hoped that just maybe I could help stop those unnecessary tragedies that befell my Dad and little sister.
At the end of my first year in medical school, I developed a horrible upset gut. The Dean of Men attributed my problem to, “freshman nerves”. After losing forty pounds, and a lot of my hair, and after being given two weeks of Paragoric, I looked at myself in the mirror and said, “self, you are going to die”. I went to see the Dean of Men the next morning, and I was so dehydrated that I spoke with a, “clicking sound”. He said to me that I could go into Public Health because it would be much less stressful…I looked like I had just come from a Concentration Camp.
I went to see my physician who with serum titers and my clinical symptoms diagnosed me with typhoid fever. My physician was livid that this, “Third World” disease could have been missed in a “high powered medical school”?
He also describes how he came to “discover” Plechner’s Syndrome. His mother was treated surgically for breast cancer, including removal of her adrenal glands and ovaries. She was on steroid replacement therapy, and Dr. Plechner’s independent reading convinced him she needed thyroid hormone supplementation. He convinced her doctor to provide this and took her subsequent good health as proof of his theories.
Is It Safe?
Since there is no research data whatsoever concerning the diagnosis and treatment of Plechner’s Syndrome, it is impossible to directly evaluate the risks of this approach. However, the glucocorticoids and thyroid hormone supplements Dr. Plechner recommend have well-recognized and potential serious side effects. While he claims that such side-effects will not occur at the doses and with the particular combinations of drugs he recommends, it must be remembered that the physiological arguments for why this is are not consistent with what the rest of the scientific community believes is the way the endocrine system works, and there is no controlled scientific evidence to show the disease he is treating even exists or that the treatment is safe or effective.
Using real drugs to treat a quite likely imaginary disorder is not a sensible way to care for our pets and our patients. While these drugs often make pets look or feel better in the short term, regardless of whether the imagined “imbalance” exists, this comes at the price of both risk from the drugs themselves and the risk of ignoring, masking, or simply overlooking other real, and possibly treatable, disorders.
Plechner’s Syndrome is an implausible hypothesis that conflicts with well-established scientific understanding of endocrinology. There is absolutely no supporting scientific data showing this theoretical disorder exists or that the proposed treatment is effective. Dr. Plechner is content with anecdotes, testimonials, and his own belief as sufficient evidence for his claims and has no intention of testing them through controlled scientific investigation. Most veterinary scientists, who generally prefer research data to storytelling, do not accept his claims.
Dr. Plechner, of course, feels this is due mostly to the veterinary profession’s fear that if his miracle cure is real it will lead to fewer sick patients and less income for veterinarians. This ridiculous and offensive suggestion is just one of many warning signs that he is promoting nonsense.
Dr. Plechner undoubtedly believes, genuinely and fervently, that he has “discovered” an important cause of disease that the rest of the scientific and medical professions have overlooked or suppressed, and he has convinced some clients and even other veterinarians of his claim. However, in the absence of any legitimate or compelling scientific evidence, despite apparently miraculous results, his treatment has not been accepted by the rest of the veterinary profession.
Just as there is no scientific evidence that Plechner’s Syndrome exists or that the proposed treatment for it works, there is no evidence to allow us to judge the safety of the approach. Using real drugs to treat a quite likely imaginary disorder is not a sensible way to care for our pets and our patients.